French Prime Minister Clemenceau once asserted that war is too consequential to be entrusted solely to soldiers. Similarly, cyberspace is deemed too critical to be left solely in the hands of technicians. Despite this, the prevailing sentiment suggests that cyberspace was crafted by technicians, leading to the assumption that technical experts should be exclusively responsible for resolving its challenges. However, the primary issues in cyberspace, whether in terms of internet governance or cybersecurity, transcend technical complexities and are inherently human in nature. More precisely, they manifest as political and geopolitical challenges. The quandaries surrounding Internet governance extend beyond technicalities related to managing the Internet; instead, they evolve into highly politicized debates regarding societal management and global public goods. Similarly, cybersecurity challenges transcend technical matters of averting cyber penetrations, delving into the political and geopolitical realm, questioning the motives behind these penetrations, and exploring strategies to constrain their impact. If we define digital diplomacy as the utilization of digital technologies in diplomatic efforts, then cyber-diplomacy can be understood as the integration of diplomatic principles into the realm of cyberspace. One approach to comprehending cyberspace involves concentrating on its fundamental operational strata: the physical layer (comprising cables, switching stations, etc.), the logical layer (encompassing protocols ensuring data reaches its destination), the data layer (encompassing the content of webpages, emails, etc.), and the social layer (where humans and, increasingly, devices interact). Each of these strata possesses inherent political and geopolitical dimensions. The imperative for nations to collaborate in upholding cybersecurity within the context of a globalized society is undeniable. Unfortunately, the practicality of such cooperation is, lamentably, not always attainable. Cyber diplomacy emerges as a strategic maneuver employed by various nations to safeguard secure communication channels and fortify defenses against digital threats. In advancing a nation’s foreign policy objectives, the utilization of digital tools within the realm of cyber diplomacy becomes pivotal. Instances of such engagement include cyber espionage, cyberattacks, and the strategic use of social media to interact with foreign nations. This relatively recent concept has exerted a substantial influence on international relations. To further a country’s foreign policy goals, cyber diplomacy utilizes digital tools, such as engaging in social media interactions with foreign nations, executing cyberattacks, and conducting cyber espionage. Despite being a relatively new concept, it has already had a substantial impact on the field of international relations. The trajectory of international relations is poised to undergo substantial influence due to the escalating prevalence of cyber diplomacy. Nations will be compelled to devise novel collaborative strategies as globalization intensifies to uphold cybersecurity. The key to preserving tranquility in the digital era might reside in the realm of cyber diplomacy. Cyber diplomacy presents several advantages. Firstly, it allows for quicker and more direct communication, which proves particularly valuable in emergencies when traditional diplomatic channels may be congested or unreliable. Secondly, cyber diplomacy serves as a conduit for international collaboration, acting as a bridge between nations. By leveraging digital tools to connect people and ideas, countries can work together on shared challenges and devise innovative solutions. Finally, cyber diplomacy can contribute to equalizing the playing field for both large and small nations. Traditionally, powerful states with extensive diplomatic resources have held sway in diplomacy. However, the internet has profoundly altered the global landscape, providing less powerful nations with the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field. While cyber diplomacy comes with numerous advantages, it also introduces potential drawbacks that must be taken into account. Primarily, the increased vulnerability of sensitive data to hacking when utilizing digital tools raises new security concerns. Secondly, the informality and rapid pace of cyber diplomacy can occasionally give rise to misinterpretations and misunderstandings. This has the potential to strain relations and escalate into conflicts between nations. Finally, the utilization of digital tools, such as in cyber warfare, introduces new forms of conflict. As countries increasingly rely on digital infrastructure, they become more susceptible to cyberattacks that could potentially cripple entire economies. Despite the challenges, cyber diplomacy is an enduring aspect of international relations. Nations must devise innovative strategies for engagement as the world becomes more interconnected. Cyber diplomacy presents a unique opportunity to foster global cooperation and build bridges between nations. Over the preceding decade, the United States has asserted a notable presence in the domain of cyber diplomacy, primarily attributable to its possession of cutting-edge cyber capabilities on a global scale. Consequently, the U.S. has strategically deployed these capabilities to propel and actualize its foreign policy objectives. Instances such as the WannaCry ransomware crisis, the Sony Pictures hack, and the Stuxnet strike accentuate the indispensable role that cyber diplomacy assumes within the realm of international relations. Diplomatic endeavors emerge as pivotal in managing repercussions and preempting potential crises, given the escalating utilization of cyberspace by governments for malicious and strategic objectives. The global acknowledgment of the imperative for regulations and collaborative frameworks in the digital sphere is palpable through initiatives like the UN Group of Governmental Experts, the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, and concerted endeavors in cybersecurity. Beyond addressing extant threats, cyber diplomacy propels worldwide cooperation, the interchange of information, and the formulation of guidelines delineating state comportment in cyberspace, thereby emphasizing its pivotal function in navigating the complexities of the digital milieu.
Rimsha Malik is an Associate Research Officer at the Centre for International Strategic Studies AJK.